What we're watching – Freeway Series

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– The first of two series between the Braves and Red Sox kicks off with
a battle of Japanese starters, as Kenshin Kawakami and Daisuke
Matsuzaka will take the mound at Fenway tonight. Kawakami is 3-5 with a
4.54 ERA, but he hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of
this last eight starts and he’s 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in his two
interleague starts to date. Dice-K, who had his last start interrupted
by a rain delay, is 1-4 with a 7.55 ERA. He could use a strong outing
to guarantee that he’s kept in the rotation following John Smoltz’s
return next week.

– A White Sox-Reds game doesn’t qualify as a banner matchup, but with Hawk Harrelson set to miss the game, at least one of the two teams could have a watchable broadcast for once.

That Jose Contreras was able to hold the Tigers and Brewers to three
hits over 16 scoreless innings in his last two starts suggests he’ll
have no problem tonight with a Reds team that has scored 35 runs in 13

As expected,
Ryan Hanigan is back batting eighth tonight after raising his OBP to
.406 by reaching three times as a No. 5 hitter Thursday. Just what was
he thinking?

– After losing 3-2 on Wednesday and 3-0 on Thursday, the Yankees
will face a pitcher they’ve never seen before in a third straight game
as the Marlins thrown Sean West tonight. West, a 6-foot-8 left-hander,
will be making his sixth big-league start after going 2-1 with a 3.00
ERA in the first five. He is wild, but the league is hitting just .165
against him. Andy Pettitte will start for the Bombers.

Game of the Night

L.A. Dodgers and L.A. Angels – The Angels are taking a seven-game
winning streak into their series against the Dodgers, and they’ll have
the added boost of getting Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero back in
the lineup tonight. Still, it’s not likely to be easy to beat Chad
Billingsley, who is 3-0 this month and 9-3 with a 2.72 ERA for the
season. He is 1-2 lifetime against the Angels, but that comes with a
2.45 ERA in 22 innings. Seven-game winner Joe Saunders will get the
ball for the Angels.

The international draft is all about MLB making money and the union selling out non-members

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 13:  A fan flies the Dominican Republic flag during the game against Cuba during Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic on March 13, 2006 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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On Monday we passed along a report that Major League Baseball and the MLBPA are negotiating over an international draft. That report — from ESPN’s Buster Olney — cited competitive balance and the well-being of international free agents as the reasons why they’re pushing for the draft.

We have long doubted those stated motivations and said so again in our post on Monday. But we’re just armchair skeptics when it comes to this. Ben Badler of Baseball America is an expert. Perhaps the foremost expert on international baseball, international signings and the like. Today he writes about a would-be international draft and he tears MLB, the MLBPA and their surrogates in the media to shreds with respect to their talking points.

Of course Badler is a nice guy so “tearing to shreds” is probably putting it too harshly. Maybe it’s better to say that he systematically dismantles the stated rationale for the international draft and makes plan what’s really going on: MLB is looking to save money and the players are looking to sell out non-union members to further their own bargaining position:

Major League Baseball has long wanted an international draft. The driving force behind implementing an international draft is for owners to control their labor costs by paying less money to international amateur players, allowing owners to keep more of that money . . . the players’ association doesn’t care about international amateur players as anything more than a bargaining chip. It’s nothing discriminatory against foreign players, it’s just that the union looks out for players on 40-man rosters. So international players, draft picks in the United States and minor leaguers who make less than $10,000 in annual salary get their rights sold out by the union, which in exchange can negotiate items like a higher major league minimum salary, adjustments to the Super 2 rules or modifying draft pick compensation attached to free agent signings.

Badler then walks through the process of how players are discovered, scouted and signed in Latin America and explains, quite convincingly, how MLB’s international draft and, indeed, its fundamental approach to amateurs in Latin America is lacking.

Read this. Then, every time a U.S.-based writer with MLB sources talks about the international draft, ask whether they know something Ben Badler doesn’t or, alternatively, whether they’re carrying water for either the league or the union.

President Bill Murray speaks about the Cubs from the White House

CHICAGO - APRIL 12:  Celebrity Bill Murray clowns around with Chicago media before the opening day game between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 12, 2004 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Pirates defeated the Cubs 13-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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I don’t know why Bill Murray is in Washington today. I don’t know why he’s at the White House. But I do know that he was there in Chicago Cubs gear, standing at the lectern in the press briefing room, voicing his full confidence in the Cubs prevailing in the NLCS, despite the fact that Clayton Kershaw is going for the Dodgers tomorrow night.

“Too many sticks,” president Murray said of the Cubs lineup. And something about better trees in Illinois.

Four. More. Years.